I once invited the owner of a company that provides interpreting services to our monthly all staff meeting. She had come to describe the services her agency could offer and to give us pointers – etiquette tips, if you will – on the use of language interpreters. One of her suggestions was to avoid the use of idiomatic language. Knowing there must be some people in the room who were unfamiliar with the concept of an idiom, I asked her to supply an example. She said, and I quote, “Oh wow, you are really putting me on the spot. I am totally drawing a blank.” As I pointed out that her answer to me in fact contained not one but two idioms, we all laughed. I still giggle when I think of it, because she was so sincere in that moment. It was spontaneous and wrought with the kind of human foible that can only come from a moment of pressure.
Our language and our lives are filled with idioms – those expressions that we use that have figurative meanings that differ from the literal meanings. I once worked with a guy who I swore only spoke in idioms. He could chain two, three, four of them together in a sentence and at the end of it we’d have no idea what he was talking about. “Let’s circle the wagons, put on our thinking caps and see who is doing the lion’s share of the work.” Huh? It was funny, too, because the more intense the situation, the worse it got. I once quipped that his idiomatic language was a lot like herpes – it seemed to really flare up during periods of incredible stress.
So this past week was one where one of my favorite idioms kept coming to the forefront of my consciousness. The idiom? “Separating the wheat from the chaff.” Stemming from a bible verse, the figurative notion behind this idiom is to separate what is valuable from what is worthless. And there is nothing in life – nothing, I tell you – that can hasten this process like a good old fashioned crisis.
It has happened to me a few times now, and has happened once again. It has occurred consistently, without hesitation, every single time I’ve gone through a difficult time. It’s almost as if there is a new clarity, a magnifying glass of sorts, that appears out of nowhere. You are on my side, you are not. You care so deeply you will sacrifice as much as is needed, you only care when caring suits you. You have my back, you’d rather stab it. One by one, the people in closest proximity sort to one side or the other in record speed.
At the end of the exercise, I’m left with what I know for sure. It’s a tragic, heart-breaking, lovely and confidence-securing thing. But – and I say this from the depth of my heart – no matter what the cost, it is always better to know. And what I can say I know, this time around and every time previous to it, the inventory of the wheat in my life is a robust and beautiful thing.